Mechanical engineering alumna Sandra Stelling '91 is Vice President, Strategy, Analytics & Transformation, for Alaska Airlines and a Lehigh trustee. A Pacific Northwest aviation leader, Stelling uses her experience in commercial and airline operations, technology and culture to develop guest experience and operations strategies.

How might society benefit from more women in engineering?

Being part of a minority group in engineering, I’ve experienced and developed a deep appreciation for the diversity of ideas and approaches to problem-solving that can come forward. However, as one of the minority, it can sometimes be difficult to be heard. Having more women in engineering, having broader diversity on teams, can contribute to better outcomes. In my experience, women bring different ideas to the table, offer different approaches to problem-solving, and bring important perspectives on collaboration and inclusion.

As a woman studying engineering at Lehigh, what did you learn about how to thrive in environments in which men typically are the majority? What did that experience teach you about yourself and what it takes to succeed?

I was one of 10 women in my major, mechanical engineering, where women were 10 percent of the total students. For many women, being the only woman in a class of men might be their first experience being an ‘only.’ It may be intimidating. Don’t let it be.

This was not the first time I was an ‘only.' In my youth, for years, I was often the ‘only’ on soccer teams. Perhaps I was more prepared for this. I was surprised, but I felt prepared.

What I know is that self-confidence is important, and having a support network for those times when your confidence falters is critical. It happens, it’s normal. And know those moments are not permanent. To thrive you have to believe in yourself, you are worthy.

I also encourage every student to step into the arena and leave it all on the field. You are smart and capable and you are here to get the most out of your time at Lehigh. Do it.

In addition, I found that building high trust and collaborative relationships with my classmates (male and female), creating a sense of team, was the most impactful thing that contributed to my success (and theirs).

What is one thing you learned at Lehigh that you’ve tapped repeatedly on your career trajectory?

With your engineering degree, you know how to solve problems. You’ve learn perseverance, and you have confidence in your ability to tackle difficult problems. You leave Lehigh with the ability to bring people together to change the world.

What do you want engineering students to know that you wish you’d known when you were at Lehigh?

Looking back, my Lehigh experience taught me that building high-trust, effective teams is a powerful tool in your toolbox. I’ve always deeply believed in teamwork, but I don’t think I was aware how important this was going to be throughout my career.

More about Sandra Stelling

Stelling joined Alaska Airlines in 1999 as a project manager and in her 21 years has held various leadership positions in Technology, Airport Operations & Customer Service, Maintenance & Engineering and Marketing. In addition to these positions, she has also led several transformation programs that span from real estate development to operations to guest experience to aircraft transitions and beyond. When Alaska acquired Virgin America in 2016, Sandy led the integration program, which delivered a single guest experience across Alaska’s flight schedules, website, mobile apps, kiosks, airports and call centers.

Currently, she works closely with the Executive team executing Alaska’s multi-year strategic plan. She also leads the Enterprise Project Management Office, Analytics & Strategy, Change Leadership, Process Design and Transformation Leader practices, which deliver multiple programs and initiatives throughout the organization.

In 2018, Sandy completed the McKinsey Executive Leadership Program. She is the Woodland Park Zoo’s Chair of its Board of Directors. She also serves on the Education Committee for the Boeing Academy of STEM learning at the Museum of Flight.

Next up: Kathleen Taylor >>

This Q&A is part of Resolve Magazine's Soaring Together series.